Itâ€™s apparent that Blaine Fontana grew up with a big backyard. Trees, leaves, bugs and birds fill the canvases of this Seattle-based artist, and each of his paintingsâ€™ elements seem as freshly plucked from the earth as an organic carrot. Itâ€™s funny, then, that Blaineâ€™s more recent personal history is full of less organic pursuits â€“ things like graff art, classical training, and graphic design â€“ and that even after all these years, itâ€™s the acres of forest surrounding his childhood home that seem to seep most distinctly into his work.
Symbolic yet unaffected, Blaineâ€™s paintings, sculptures, and collaborations with institutions like Scion and Nike have paved the way for an exciting career. Read on to find out whatâ€™s coming up next on the woodsy path of Blaine Fontana.
â€œNature has its own overwhelming power of surrealism in what I have come to see as expected or ordinary.â€
Format: Can you tell us about your artsy/non-artsy-but-relevant background, please?
Blaine Fontana: My family is made up of creative people. I grew up with enormous encouragement to pursue a creative outlet. My brother is an architect, artist and sculptor; my mother is very talented with botany, landscaping, and every kind of craft project imaginable.
I grew up around acres of forest – you can imagine the daydreams and “pretend” games I experienced with friends in my youth. Fortunately, the local education program in the public schools had many genres available to pursue. Architecture, photography, illustration, graphic design and fundamental fine art were all available, and I took every class that I could while growing up. Graffiti became my life around the end of high school, and for eight years, and throughout the northwest and LA, it consumed every minute of my life.
Format: You followed varied paths before becoming an independent artist and designer. To name a few: Art directing for metro.pop, a stint at Abound LLC, and creatively directing fashion label Drifter. What does working for yourself offer to you that working for a company cannot?
Blaine Fontana: Just to be clear, I was a graphic designer at metro.pop. I did some art direction, but generally I was doing layout design and illustration. I often miss the round table brainstorming and collective creativity that exists in companies/studios. Working on your own offers flexible hours and a source of pride in the responsibility you have to maintain. I take comfort in knowing that only I can improve the functions of the studio and can’t blame anybody else for something going wrong.
The double edge sword here is that nobody is telling you how or what to create, but nobody is offering constructive criticism and alternative directions to a creative solution. Itâ€™s not for everybody. I’ve disciplined myself to work everyday from 10 – 6 or 7, itâ€™s the only way to survive self employment – and for many artists, the word â€œregularityâ€ is not in their vocabulary.
Format: Unlike a lot of writers-turned-artists, you have pursued the more classical side of art since you were a teen. Were your early studies in design, life drawing, etc., evident in your graffiti style?
Blaine Fontana: Possibly, itâ€™s hard to evaluate and dissect your own creations. I suppose the training in anatomy made me more talented in characters than throw ups.
Format: It seems like there is always an organic element to your paintings – a tree, a leaf, some kind of bug. What is the symbolism in that?
Blaine Fontana: Nature has its own overwhelming power of surrealism in what I have come to see as expected or ordinary. I’m still constantly taken back by the design, changes, and harmonic system of flora and fauna. I paint what is familiar, and from the visual vocabulary I have subconsciously developed since an infant. Itâ€™s also really difficult to describe the general symbolism since every piece and its inherent elements remain different and unique.
Format: You have a big collection of what look like African tribal masks, and sometimes the faces in your pieces take on mask-like characteristics. Tribal masks are often loaded with meaning â€“ are the faces in your work similarly loaded?
Blaine Fontana: They exist as a vehicle to portray familiarity and a doorway into the story of the piece. Personally, I would find it difficult to convey my visions if they weren’t there. Traditionally, masks are used as a way to invoke a spirit or particular ritual, and are incomplete unless used in a ceremony by the shaman. I feel my work would be incomplete with out my figurative storytellers.
Format: You work pretty consistently in acrylics â€“ has this always been your medium of choice, or do you still play around with oils, aerosol, condiments?
Format: I have yet to venture into oils. In addition to acrylics I use a plethora of other media: oil sticks, color pencils, aerosol, acrylic mediums, pencil, wax, and resin to name a few. I have been comfortable working with these agents because of the rapid drying time they all offer. Iâ€™ve still yet to master the delicate art of mayonnaise decoupage.
Format: It seems to me like artists’ personalities are somewhat comparable within particular mediums. For example, artists that use oils are a bit more intense and introverted; artists that favor faster drying materials are a bit more extroverted and jumpy…but that could be an ignorant generalization. What would you say?
Blaine Fontana: Scary, I feel like I just had my Tarot cards read…accurately.
Format: I had family on Bainbridge Island for a time, and the atmosphere there definitely seemed to support creativity. Does the damp and the grey and the quaintness of that area change the way you feel when you paint, and subsequently, what comes out of your paintbrush?
Blaine Fontana: Itâ€™s hard to say right now, I’ve been here only a year. The advantage of the hibernation period on Bainbridge Island is that I’m forced indoors, which allows for longs stretches of focused painting. I’m also in the middle of a major evolution and different approach to my paintings and style. Itâ€™s highly possible that my new environment will play a major role in the outcome of my new work.
Format: Walk us through the inspiration for, creation of, and completion of a new piece…
Blaine Fontana: The $64,000 question. It starts with going through numerous books for a day: design, landscaping, 1950’s layout and typography books, and Japanese print design. I’ll also spend some time sketching outside in the forest. Most of my work reveals itself existentially during the process. Painting over developed areas and letting accidents happen in the early stage are also persuasive factors in the background of the piece. Once a rich and engaging background is settled, I flesh out the story and foreground of the work.
Format: Your pieces are named interestingly; let’s use Pulchritudes Perplexus as one example. Is naming your pieces an easy process, or do you slave over it, like naming a baby?
Blaine Fontana: They come naturally. Once a piece is finished, Iâ€™ll listen to it for a day or so and come up with the most appropriate title that both reflects the piece and sounds poetic, so that it massages your auditory sense. If there were any symbolism in naming my paintings like children, all of my kids would probably be violently picked on because of their names (and it would make me one horrible father, since I rarely get to see my kids after I birth them).
Format: What was it like working with Scion?
Blaine Fontana: I can’t say enough positive words about the art installation program and the curators of this national tour. They completely embrace the artistsâ€™ vision and represent all of them with integrity, respect and encouragement.
Format: Do you have one gallery show that really stands out to you as a success (within any definition of the term), and if so, can you tell us what elements went in to making it so enjoyable?
Blaine Fontana: It would have to be “the birdhouse show.” The amount of preparation and collaborative effort it required (with my close contemporaries Sam Flores, Erik Otto, and Sage Vaughn) made it such a unique show.
What made the show successful in so many ways was, one, it was produced on a huge museum scale on a show string budget – 95% of the installation was from recycled and found wood/objects; and, two, the concept unveiled itself so effortlessly in the installation process over the week that it felt like we were working as one mind. The turnout was something I have never seen before – a constant line extended outside the building onto the sidewalk down the block the entire night.
Format: You’ve worked on a few art toys, primarily Dunnys. The ones you worked on for the Standard Hotel were amazing, and almost unlike anything else you’ve ever done. What is that made of, how did you construct it, and does it represent anything?
Blaine Fontana: Thanks. It was assembled with over 500 model parts from anime kits, and several American jet fighter model kits. 15 boxes, 30 glue sticks, and several cans of spray paint were cannibalized. I had such a blast working on that piece for two weeks – repetition can create such a zen state of being.
The piece is generally about the illusion of control.
Format: Are you currently working on any exciting projects?
Blaine Fontana: Always. Three big ones right now: Iâ€™m finishing my first and only solo show for 2008 at Joshua Liners Gallery in Chelsea, NY in October; Iâ€™m quickly wrapping up a campaign with BLIK, a wall decal company; and I’m in the comp phase of designing one of the SCION art cars (the actual car, that can be driven).